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Biden’s dubious energy policy set the stage for this onerous run-up of gas and oil prices

Energy shortages across the world have led the administration to look for oil in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, “dirty” Canadian oil is finding its way into the U.S. via rail.

A gas pump at a gas station
REUTERS/Bing Guan

Oil and gas prices have been increasingly burdensome for the American family as of late. An issue that has been brewing for well over a year has recently been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, little has been done to date by the Biden administration to lower these fuel prices that have seriously strained the wallets of Minnesotans, and American families across the country.

From his nominations of anti-energy officials to his increasingly restrictive policies against oil and gas development on federal lands, President Biden long ago set the stage for the price run-up we are seeing today. The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Day 1 of his presidency meanwhile, in part due to pressure by environmental activists who alleged the Canadian oil it was supported to transport was too dirty, is indicative of how this administration has been shaping its energy policy.

Now with gas prices hovering around $5 per gallon nationally, and $4.75 here in Minnesota, reality has set in for the Biden administration and they are changing their tune. Energy shortages across the world have led the Biden administration to look for oil in places such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, that same “dirty” Canadian oil is now finding its way into the U.S. via other modes of transportation, such as freight rail.

It is surprising that an administration that speaks out frequently about carbon footprints and claims to be serious about minimizing the environmental risks of oil and gas spills has been so quiet about this development. Freight rail, while an important complement to pipelines for energy transportation, should be a less preferred way to move oil and gas for the Biden administration because it is a more carbon-intensive and accident-prone mode of transportation.

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These facts, coupled with the strong antitrust bent the Federal Trade Commission has recently taken under its new Chair Lina Khan, makes it all the more baffling that the Biden administration has not spoken out about the proposed Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern railroad mega-merger and that the Surface Transportation Board may push it through without proper oversight. 

This merger would double rail traffic through residential areas and likely mean more oil running on trains through the neighborhoods and backyards of Minnesotans, rather than underground in safer pipelines. Given that rail is over four times more likely to experience an accident versus pipelines, according to one study, this would be an unnecessary risk. Further, the increase in intermodal truck activity going to and from these railyards will also increase risk of accidents and increase diesel emissions, directly contradicting the president’s push to lower carbon emissions.

A U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation review, meanwhile, found that busy at-grade train crossings “can have significant impacts on the quality of life in a community, and can hinder first responder’s timely access to emergency services.” In a Minnesota town like Winona, where train crossing wait times are already a problem with 40-minute delays in some cases, the 50 percent increase in train traffic this community is expected to see could be disastrous. The real-life devastating consequences of such delays were also recently on display in Lockland, Ohio, where a home — just 300 feet from the rails — sat in flames for eight times longer than it should have due to a train that was blocking firefighters from getting to the scene. A 59-second response time became eight minutes, with flames doubling with every passing minute.

Amy Koch
Amy Koch
Taking all of this into consideration, why are federal regulators within the Biden administration turning a blind eye? Could it be that their animosity toward pipelines is so strong that they are willing to push inferior alternatives? Why would the president, meanwhile, push a gas tax holiday to lower fuel costs while tacitly approving of a merger that would supplant pipelines in favor of rail cars that can cost three times as much to transport the same barrel of oil? This would surely more than cancel out the effects of temporary tax breaks and increase fuel costs for the long term, but still the White House is silent. We must start getting answers to such questions.

Congress, for its part, funded a study regarding the impact longer trains have on safety, grade crossings, freight and passenger service, and the environment, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill signed into law in November 2021 This is a good start, but more must be done. America has a clear option that would help it meet its energy needs and provide time for the full oversight this merger requires, but it is being ignored. The White House should give both a second look.

Amy Koch was the first female majority leader of the Minnesota Senate, where she represented Buffalo.